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Keeping Vintage Miami History Alive PDF Print E-mail
Written by Mandy Baca, Special to the BT   
March 2015

Excerpts from a new book on old establishments

I worked as an intern for Biscayne Times between 2009 and 2010. It was my first exposure to the editorial world, and I will be forever grateful.

Since then, it’s been a long journey, one that has included the release of my first book, The Sizzling History of Miami Cuisine: Cortaditos, Stone Crabs and Empanadas (The History Press, 2013), and inclusion on Zagat Miami’s “30 Under 30” list of people redefining the local food industry.

Everything comes full circle, and I’m back to share information about my newest book, Discovering Vintage Miami, which highlights 50 establishments that have withstood the test of time.

This past year was pivotal for Miami’s history as a number of important businesses closed. While we lament the loss of such places as Tobacco Road and Jumbo’s Restaurant, the closings have sparked interest in preserving other vintage establishments still around, including those located along the Biscayne Corridor, an area that itself has a rich history and vintage appeal.

In doing research for the book, I took the definition of vintage one step further. In Miami, vintage is not only a state of time, it is also a place. Vintage refers to yesteryear in the Old Country.

In the book, you will find examples of such a concept. Some establishments may not have been around for more than 20 years, but their ambiance transports you to another country, another era.

Below are short excerpts from a handful of chapters. I hope you enjoy rediscovering the stories of vintage Miami.

 


LAURENZO’S ITALIAN MARKET


16385 W. Dixie Hwy., North Miami Beach 33160
305-945-6381
laurenzosmarket.com


Old World Italy in Miami

Vintage_1There are so many things to say about this place, it is hard to know where to begin. Laurenzo’s Italian Market is Miami’s oldest Italian market. It is an institution, and it is always top of mind for foodies looking for gourmet and/or Italian food. This store set the tone for gourmet markets in the city.

There is no Little Italy in Miami like in other parts of the country, but a large population of Italian expats do live here, mainly in Coral Gables and the downtown neighborhood of Brickell. The store is stuck not only in another time, but in another country. For those who have been to Italy, you will be transported there upon entering the store. For those who have not been to Italy, this is a close second.

Ben Laurenzo opened the store in 1954 along with his brother Achilles. Originally from upstate New York, they are both second-generation Americans. Ben fought in the Navy during World War II and like many other soldiers decided to move to South Florida shortly after his return. War does a number on individuals, and life in sunny Florida is much more appealing and, as a whole, more carefree than cold upstate New York. The store is now owned and operated by third-generation David and Carol Laurenzo, the patriarch’s children, but Ben can still be found at the store every day.

The idea for the store came about in 1951, when Ben and his family began delivering authentic Italian and specialty products in a station wagon from Palm Beach to the Keys. In the fifties, Italian cuisine and general culture were at an all-time high in Miami, and Laurenzo’s delivery service was an instant hit. A permanent store was the next logical step. According to David, back in the fifties the North Miami area was rich with Italians, and a niche needed to be filled.

 


ROYAL CASTLE


2700 NW 79th St.
Miami 33147
305-696-8241


James Brimberry’s Royal Castle

Vintage_2At the height of the company’s popularity, Royal Castles were as abundant as modern-day McDonald’s, with hundreds of outposts across the South Florida region. Best known for their famous tagline “Fit for a King” (this slogan was built into the terrazzo floors of all outlets), there are an infinite number of stories and memories about the former fast-food king.

Royal Castle was Miami’s first foray into fast food, founded in 1938 by William Singer; the restaurants were modeled after another hamburger icon, White Castle. The economic state of the country during the Great Depression and afterwards during the war led to an increased popularity in fast-food restaurants. Dwindling from the hundreds, only two Royal Castle locations with different owners still exist, and both restaurants are located a mere ten minutes from each other.

Wayne Arnold owns the location at 12490 NW Seventh Ave. In the middle of 2014, the iconic restaurant was converted into Finga Licking@Royal Castle, a restaurant serving a mix of Caribbean food and soul food. Now, the shell and the ode to the name are the only remnants of the once great Royal Castle on that block.

Originally from Liberty City, James Brimberry owns the location at 2700 NW 79th St. Royal Castle restaurants were in full operation during the civil rights movements of the sixties but did not allow black customers to sit at the counter, instead forcing them to order items through a side window. After the Civil Rights Act of 1964, Brimberry was hired as the first black manager for the brand.

Today the restaurant is a nostalgic nod to the past in flavor and design, where the old customs of racism are thankfully long gone and where the burgers are still cheap.

 


CHURCHILL’S PUB


5501 NE 2nd. Ave.
Miami 33137
305-757-1807
Churchillspub.com


Miami’s Sort-of English Pub

Vintage_3Miami is known for many things, but an English pub and overall British tradition is not one of them. Sure, you will see British tourists here on vacation, but residents are few and far between. Dave Daniels, Churchill’s founder, is probably Miami’s most popular Brit. In 1979, he founded the club that “from its grotty interior to its Bowery-esque surroundings -- is the CBGB of Miami. Everything happens at Churchill’s,” said musician Rachel Goodrich in a November 28, 2008 New York Times article, “South Florida, Tropical Bohemia in the Makings.” “It is so real. It is old and it is magical, and there are a lot of secrets there.”

Located in the heart of Little Haiti, this little piece of England is juxtaposition incarnate. Daniels named the pub after Winston Churchill because he was an important part of every Brit’s life growing up. The white cement establishment looks like an old pub in England; Churchill’s face looms overhead as you walk in.

Daniels notes that pubs in England are the social fabric of a town and he wanted to bring that experience to Miami. “I have always been into live music, I opened my first jazz club [in England] in 1960,” he says. Dating back to 1948, Churchill’s Pub was originally C&H Pub, a neighborhood beer and wine bar that closed at 7:00 p.m.

Three years in, Daniels expanded the hole-in-the-wall and began incorporating live music. At this point, it is circa 1982 and Flynn’s Ocean 71 in Miami Beach had just closed down. The so-called scene, which encompasses underground music, mostly of the alternative and punk genres, consisted of about a hundred people at the time, and now had nowhere to go. Daniels gave them a chance, and that is how it all started. Without him, a lot of bands would not have flourished. For a long time, Churchill’s was the only place to play. It is not just indie or rock, it just is. No city has anything like this. Anyone can play onstage. (Daniels, anticipating a hard-earned retirement, sold the club last year.)

 


AUSTIN BURKE


2601 NW 6th Ave.
Miami 33127
305-576-2714
austinburkefl.net


It Is a Boys’ Club

Vintage_4In the land of fashion, women tend to dominate the scene, and as the years have passed, the world of traditional menswear has been taken over by the big department stores, losing its Old World charm and character in the shuffle. When Austin Burke opened in 1945, Gatti’s Restaurant and the National Hotel were all the rage, and Dressel’s Dairy and McArthur’s Dairy still made home deliveries. Fast forward 69 years, and the store continues strong with Austin Burke’s son, Barry Burke, at the helm, along with his cousin, Kenny Sager. These days, stores like Austin Burke are one of a kind and deserve attention.

Austin Burke moved from Philadelphia in 1945 and opened the store shortly thereafter on Lincoln Road. In the Fifties, the store did heavy advertising with Gilbert and Tormey Inc., a popular trend of the Mad Men days. Burke was a well-known announcer and was locally famous for his comedic television and radio commercials to promote the store, where he would strip off layers upon layers of sports coats.

In the Sixties the family moved the business to Miami’s Wynwood neighborhood, then known as Miami’s Fashion District. A heavily industrial neighborhood, one can still see remnants of this in the abandoned manufacturing buildings and warehouse clothing stores on NW Fifth Avenue. Austin Burke continues as an anchor for the neighborhood, and its high visibility remains when driving on I-95. The large green lettering flanked by an oversize shamrock is hard to miss. The neighborhood is experiencing yet another renaissance, and as it continues to grow and change, the store will remain as a window to the past, not only in style, but also in service. “Like wine, our store only gets finer and finer with age,” says Sager.

 


SEYBOLD JEWELRY BUILDING


36 NE 1st. St.
Miami 33132
305-374-7922
seyboldjewelry.com


Glittering Miami

Vintage_5All that glitters is not just gold, but diamonds, gems, silver, and pearls -- all the things that make women’s hearts pitter-patter. Located in the heart of downtown Miami, the Seybold Building offers a special, one-of-a-kind experience for shoppers looking to add an extra bit of glitz and bling to their life. As the second-largest jewelry building in the United States behind Los Angeles’ Jewelry Trades Building, the Seybold Building serves as the anchor for Miami’s Jewelry District, which spans four city blocks from Miami Avenue to SE Second Avenue on Flagler Street and NE First Street.

With its interior fluorescent lighting and neon signage, the Seybold Building feels like a building composed of duty-free shops, but it is actually worthy of New York’s prestigious Fifth Avenue standards. Officially on the National Register of Historic Places, the arcade-style building houses over 280 jewelers on ten floors. Tenants include such jewelers as Albert’s Fine Jewelers, Nemaro Jewelers, Dasani Jewels, Freddy’s Jewelry, and Buchwald Jewelers, which is the building’s oldest tenant, open since 1932.

Skyscrapers sprouted all over downtown Miami during the boom era of the Twenties, mainly in the architectural style of the Mediterranean Revival, thanks in part to architecture firm Kiehnel & Elliott. Stuccoed walls, red tiled roofs, windows in the shape of arches, wrought-iron balconies, rectangular floor plans, and symmetry are common benchmarks of the Mediterranean Revival style. Included on the list of important Mediterranean Revival-style buildings in Miami are the Carlyle Hotel in Miami Beach and the Coconut Grove Playhouse in Coconut Grove. In 1925 the Seybold Building expanded to encompass ten floors. With entrances on both Flagler and First streets, the building has remained a center for fashionable shopping throughout its entire history.

 


CAULEY SQUARE HISTORIC RAILROAD VILLAGE


22400 Old Dixie Hwy.
Miami 33170
305-258-3543
cauleysquare.com


A Glimpse of Old South Florida

Vintage_6Spanning ten acres, Cauley Square is located off of U.S. 1 in the town of Goulds in Homestead and made up of clapboard-style cottages, which serve as homes for the stores and restaurants of the village. In the early 1900s, Miami’s beginnings played out near the mouth of the Miami River and Biscayne Bay, in the heart of what is now known as downtown Miami. But farther south, the rural town of Goulds also boomed. Henry Flagler’s Florida East Coast Railway reached the area in 1903. William H. Cauley, a local pioneer farmer and owner of the 10 acres surrounding the railroad center, built Cauley Square that same year to increase the population of the town.

Historically, the cottages served as homes for the workers of Flagler’s railway. Additionally, Flagler used the village as his shipping hub for tomatoes, which he would send north in the winter. Cauley Square claims to be the last railroad village in Florida and one of the last in the century. At the time, the village also housed a bar and grill, offices, and warehouses, but it was not always quaint; typical of a pioneer town, stories of booze and brothels were rampant.

 

Discovering Vintage Miami was published by Globe Pequot Press in November 2014. Priced at $16.95, it is locally available at Flavorish Market, Miami Shores Chamber of Commerce, Sweat Records, and all Books & Books locations.

 

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